Monday, July 3, 2017

Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

First of all let me say that I have not read any of Jane Austen's works except excerpts from Little Women years ago; however, since reading this book, I am curious to take a look at Austen's books. This story is largely based on one of Jane Austen's works called Sense and Sensibility though modernized as if the characters are living in current middle class American society. There are three sisters, Celia, Jane, and Margot who lost their mom to a car accident and their father to a business scandal. Despite these circumstances, the sisters stay together and start a tea salon before choosing to move it to Austin, Texas. While trying to find a suitable space to grow their company, they go through confusion and heartbreak.

There were several factors keeping me reading until late into the morning one night (I could not put the book down after I hit about the halfway point.)  While mainly focusing on Jane's relationship, the unanswered questions about Celia's breakup with long-term boyfriend Teddy drew me to the end of the story to find out what happened to shatter their relationship at the beginning of the story. Additionally, I found Lodge's depiction of Callum, a young wounded veteran, a good balance to the book as it switches viewpoints between Jane and Callum. The nightmares and physical troubles Callum goes through stuck out as interesting to me because it is something that happens everyday to young men and women in America who have sacrificed for their country.  I also loved the references to American culture such as the Frozen mention or Lord of the Rings joke; those parts of the book, plus the references to technology such as their online business, gave the story a 21st century feel like it was happening in our world. Lastly, her writing style is as charming as the recipes following chapters; she has almost convinced me to try cooking again or drinking tea.

Since I was invested in the characters while reading this book, now I want to find out what happens to Margot when she reaches adulthood. Hopefully Lodge will continue to write charming romances.

I can also say that even if you are unfamiliar with Sense and Sensibility, you will still enjoy this book.

(I received this book for free from WaterbookMultnomah Publishing but this review is my own opinion.)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fraying at the Edge by Cindy Woodsmall

Being the second book in a series, this review is bound to have spoilers for the first book so read with caution if you tend to dislike spoilers like I do.

The third and last book in this series comes out next month so this is the best time to get and read the first two books both of which I highly recommend.

Fraying at the Edge continues the story started in the previous book beginning right as Ariana and Skylar are learning about the lives they were meant to have been a part of. Switched at birth, Ariana grew up Amish when she was supposed to have grown up in an American broken household, while the vice versa is true of Skylar.  Ariana experiences going to movies and malls, cutting her hair, wearing colorful clothing, driving a car, and going on a cultural road trip all for the first time while coping with whether she is going against the very literal faith she grew up learning in the Amish community. She also has to learn to love her birth father who is an atheist constantly trying to prove her faith wrong. Meanwhile, Skylar is coping with her drug addiction and losing faith in living life as the Amish lifestyle gently shows her another side to life.

The part that stuck out the most to me was the character development. Through Woodsmall's relaxed and simple writing style, the story played out dramatically in the minds of her characters. Ariana learns how to reconcile her faith with the positive and negative truths she finds in the real world, which is something powerful that we go through everyday as Christians. Skylar starts to find unconditional love in an unlikely place, while her Amish twin, Abram, finds friendship even amidst his rejection from the first book. I look forward to seeing the end result of their journey as it concludes in Gathering the Threads.

Additionally, as Ariana explores the normal world, I love the references to pop culture such as the Disney movies she watched. It makes the series feel more like it is really happening here in our time and part of the world especially for those who have not seen Amish Country or horse and buggy firsthand.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (Video Game Review)

Shadows of Valentia is a game that was remastered for the Nintendo 3DS from the Fire Emblem Saga. The saga features lovable characters, turn based movement, strategy based play, and captivating stories. You command an army through multiple battles and watch as the story unfolds.  Fire Emblem Games are a combination between engaging stories and challenging puzzles (turn based movement).

 Each game covers different characters; Shadows of Valentia specifically covers the lives of childhood friends Alm and Celica both with shrouded pasts who are called upon to fight for their country and go against the evil invading it. You command both of their armies on separate sides of the continent each going about the war their way while thinking about the other person.

Even though I was able to mostly predict the story line in Shadows of Valentia, I still loved how it gradually unfolded and the truth was not what it seemed. While missing some of the elements from newer Fire Emblem titles, I was impressed with the 3D dungeon style exploring when one went into a cave or temple and the missions and items found in the 2D villages by searching the picture or talking to the people. I was not able to play the original version of this game so I was thankful it was released on a game system I already owned.

Books are not the only thing to have stories; I love stories in all of their formats. Fire Emblem Shadows of Valentia to me is as enjoyable and entertaining as reading a fantasy novel except that I get to solve puzzles and actually become a part of the story. Awakening and Fates are two other newer Fire Emblem titles where you actually get to name the main character whatever you want because you are that character in the story. Both of those titles also have their own stories that are worth experiencing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ties that Bind by Cindy Woodsmall

Ties that Bind is the first in a Trilogy of three books concerning an Amish community with many secrets. Ariana is a young Amish girl who was hurt in her past by her closest friend Quill.  He stole away with another of her friends, Frieda, and left the Amish lifestyle without warning using Ariana as his cover. Now he appears back in her life as she is just moving on and is about to start her own business. He gives her a cryptic message insinuating that one of her family members is about to leave the Amish, as well, bringing all the old pain back. However, he soon learns an even worse secret that could shake Ariana's life far worse.

Woodsmall has a way of writing that makes the Amish lifestyle and characters understandable and relatable. She comes up with new and exciting twists and story lines to keep audiences hooked upon her books. Especially in this series, I am excited to see her comparison of, what we call, the normal lifestyle and the Amish lifestyle, which is already apparent in this book for reasons that I do not want to spoil. She has a way of showing us what happens in the Amish community when extenuating circumstances occur such as found in this book. Read with me as I finish the stories and write reviews.

A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers

A Lineage of Grace is a compilation of five smaller stories; each story concerns one of the women who is mentioned in Matthew of the Bible as part of the descendants leading to the birth of Jesus Christ. The five women include, Tamar who was abused by her husband, Rahab the prostitute with faith who lived on the wall of Jericho, Ruth the faithful widow and daughter-in-law who was blessed by God, Bethsheba the infamous adulteress, and Mary the mother of Jesus.

I was already in love with Rivers' work on Redeeming Love and the Mark of the Lion series before I picked this book up at the thrift store. Rivers brings to life the stories of these women keeping true to the passages given to us in the Bible while adding in detail that she must have gained from research into the history and culture of each of those time periods and countries the women are from. Through Rivers' writing, she brings emotions to the characters making them relatable to present audiences. Through their abuse, circumstances, temptations, and flaws, she brings to light one of the leading themes found in the Bible; God used the most unlikely and flawed people to bring Jesus Christ into the world. I would recommend this book to all those who have longed to see the Bible as if they had been there. Remember, however, that the Bible is the only ultimate truth.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Khadgar's Escapades

An incident with my dog recently has gotten me thinking.

We got him almost a year ago when we were living in our apartment. We hated to leave him by himself in his cage when we had to go to work, so we tried leaving him in just the bathroom. The little booger took to taking out the carpet under the door and chewing off the door post. Realize that this is a tiny dog slightly bigger than a Chihuahua. Therefore, he has been in his cage when we have been at work until recently when we moved.

My husband put a dog door in our new house, and Khadgar loves his backyard. He was great for about the first week while we left him out, but one time I left him, he apparently was mad. For some reason, he thought it a good idea to tear up his leash that we left on the coffee table. It was in about 7 pieces when I got home. So in his anger, he tore up one of his favorite things that means walks. I found this very ironic that in being mad, he only hurt himself.

I see this lack of logic in children today where they are angry with an authority figure so they end up sabotaging themselves because they did not want to listen to someone who has their best interests at heart. This is also something that we do as Christians when we do not like God's decisions or answers to our prayer. We ignore him, take it into our own hands, and do whatever we want (possibly to indirectly spite Him) only hurting ourselves in the process as we get deeper and deeper into sin. In truth, all of us have at one point been like Khadgar not realizing the effect our actions have upon us. However, just like how we went out and bought another leash for Khadgar, God will never stop trying to help us if we would only wait and listen for him.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund

A Daring Sacrifice was a sweet young adult romance novel with underlying Christian themes.  Just from seeing the front and reading the back cover, I was hooked upon this story. As a female version of Robin Hood, Juliana was a character that intrigued me immediately. Basically, the story concerns Juliana who is fighting to keep her people alive after her uncle stole the throne and murdered her father. However, her uncle does not know that she is alive or that she is the one stealing from him. Then, Juliana hides in a neighboring territory after barely escaping being caught and ambushes Lord Collin.  Their first meeting is humorous from Lord Collin's eyes as he lets himself be robbed.  When he later tracks her down and realizes she is someone from his childhood, the love story truly begins.  From then on, it is a battle for Juliana to keep her identity hidden from her uncle and keep herself from falling in love with Collin.

What I really liked about this story and about Jody's writing style in general is how she switches back and forth between the two main characters' eyes. Because of this, you truly get to see how the love grows between them, and how the story unfolds from all angles. However, the ending felt too similar to For Love and Honor, which is actually chronologically after A Daring Sacrifice. As a side note, I love how the books are connected by similar characters but how each story is it's own so much so that I can read the books backwards chronologically and still enjoy them.

Despite the similar endings, I still enjoyed reading A Daring Sacrifice as a quick light read. I would recommend this book to my middle school students and anyone who loves short romantic fairy tales.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer

I had a really hard time getting into this book and after getting through the first four chapters, I was not intrigued to finish it. I had no idea where the book was going or even what to expect from the rest of the book so I stopped reading it. By the first few chapters, if I am not hooked onto the story, I do not force myself to read it. I expect to be connected to the story and characters in a emotional way with the potential conflict being much clearer early on. This story left too much to mystery in the early chapters that did not pique my curiosity. I did not connect with Thomas, the main character, which is something that keeps me interested in a story.

If you are looking for romantic or exciting young adult novels, I would suggest looking elsewhere.

( I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review, and this opinion is my own.)

For Love and Honor by Jody Hedlund

This is a book that I found while out thrift shopping yesterday. What immediately drew me to the book was the beautiful front cover and the summary on the back of the book.  When I got home, I picked up the book, not having read anything from this author, and could not put it down. I stayed up late just to finish it. It has been awhile since a story captivated me enough to take all of my attention for hours, especially as a first year teacher during the last few weeks of school. It was a much needed reprieve from the chaos at school.

What really drew me to the story was Lady Sabine's imperfection. She has a skin discoloration that in the 1300s she has to hide so people do not think that she is a witch.  Because of this imperfection, she pushes all potential suitors away, which is something I identified with, especially before I met my husband two years ago.  Most girls have some imperfection that they consider to make them less than lovable whether it be physical, mental, or social, making this story relate-able for its teen audience. Connecting to this idea, the story then focuses on how the inside is what makes a person attractive, a lesson that young adults need to hear.

Besides the underlying theme, the story included an interesting plot with twists and turns that I did not expect, comical banter that makes you smile, and characters that come alive with the authors well written words. Overall, I would not hesitate to suggest this book to my middle school students and any other book lovers out there who want an innocent and interesting love story to read.